May 03, 2018


JON FAINE: One of the architects of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is the former Minister who was in charge of it. Still a Labor politician from the Federal Opposition, she is the Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, Jenny Macklin. Ms Macklin, good morning to you.


FAINE: It’s not quite working the way you intended, is it?

MACKLIN: It certainly is not, and unbelievably frustrating, particularly for people with disability and their families. Family members like Caroline, but also, I’m sorry to say, many, many thousands of others who just have to wrangle, as you say, this very, very bureaucratic approach that has been put in place. It really is wrong and as I have said, a number of times, we have to get back to the original purpose of the NDIS, which of course is to make sure that people’s lives are better, not to face this incredible bureaucratic mess.

FAINE: So how do you fix it?

MACKLIN: Well I think there’s a number of things, a number of really important things that need to be done urgently. There’s just been a big review done by the Productivity Commission that said the staffing cap that was put in place on the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) that was done a few years ago, that cap must be lifted. One of the frustrations that people have is that they can’t get through on the phone, they can’t get through on emails, as you say they get shoved from pillar to post. One of the problems is that there just aren’t enough staff to deal with the demand, particularly as the new Scheme is being introduced.

FAINE: Can I interrupt and beg to differ. There seem to be a lot of staff, just no one who actually makes a decision.

MACKLIN: Well they certainly need to make decisions.

FAINE: Well they won’t, they won’t, and they say, ‘oh there’s no clarity here,’ or ‘we’re not sure of the guidelines,’ or ‘we have to refer this upwards.’ It’s turned in to an endless, mindless, inefficient bureaucracy.

MACKLIN: I agree, and I’ve said to the head of the Agency, that the thing that has to change, most importantly is the whole culture of what’s been created. It is so bureaucratic instead of being about the individuals and families for whom it was designed.

FAINE: So, how do you fix that? We need people who – well, there has to be clarity of guidelines and the actual application of them.

MACKLIN: And make sure that there are more people with disability, actually on the board and guiding the NDIS. We can’t just have it run by people who understand the finances, important though that is, it has got to be about the original purpose of the Scheme which is delivering for people with disability. Every single day I speak to people who are unable to get their problems fixed, and we have to do what you’ve done, and get involved and help them, which of course we’re happy to do.

FAINE: But here’s what I don’t understand. It costs more to pass the buck.

MACKLIN: Correct.

FAINE: You’d free up some of the money they say they can’t allocate if they stop wasting money just churning every decision over from person to person to person to person.

MACKLIN: That’s right, and there are also a huge number of problems between the NDIS and state run services, so, who’s responsible for the health services that people with disability need, or people who are in prisons that need support through the NDIS. A huge reform like this requires Ministers, senior people in the Departments to get in there, get their hands dirty and fix problems every single day. Not, as you say, churn the problems and blame them on somebody else.

FAINE: I hope this is not too lateral, but I am taking a step to the side. We have just learnt from the Banking Royal Commission that cultural failings of the banks, we’ve learned from ASIC about it’s internal cultural failings of not doing it’s job, we’ve learned about $10 million of penalties to Telstra for ripping off it’s consumers, we’ve learned of $10 million of fines laid on to Ford for ripping off consumers, we’ve learned from the Prudential Regulator of the Commonwealth Banks appalling internal culture, what is going on? Why can’t these people accept their role, do the job they’re paid to do and just get on with it, looking after the customers?

MACKLIN: And also remember that their primary job is to serve people that they are supposed to deliver to. So in the case of the NDIS, the whole point of the Scheme, the whole vision that people with disability wanted was to build a whole new approach that got away from the broken system of the past, made sure that people got the support that they need so that they can live strong and independent lives. We need a culture in the Scheme that is all about people with disability, not about bureaucratic controls or buck passing.

FAINE: $5 million contracts to consultants to try and tell people what isn’t working. I mean, quite frankly, I don’t think you need international consultants for $5 million to tell you how to fix it. You just need a few people who are in positions of authority banging heads together and saying, ‘no, you are not going to kick this can down the road endlessly, you have to get on and do your job.’

MACKLIN: And make some decisions. Make the decision to fix the prices for the services that people need so that we actually have them being delivered. I met a mother the other day in my own area who was enormously frustrated because her daughter with severe intellectual disability had just had her plan of supports cut for no reason whatsoever that she can understand. So you can imagine how she feels, that there is this $5 million being spent on an international consultancy, and her severely intellectually disabled daughter is no longer able to get five days of activities. It’s just wrong.

FAINE: Thank you very much for responding to our call this morning, and we will continue to ask the NDIA, the Agency, we will continue to ask them to explain themselves. We’ve asked them every day for a week now to come on air. I must say, a bit like ASIC it seems, another Agency that doesn’t want to be publicly accountable, a bit like ASIC. They say, ‘no, we’re working on it’ and they don’t have anything public to say. Jenny Macklin, thank you for your time.


Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra